Philippians 1:1-11


The setting for the congregation at Philippi is found at Acts 16:12-40. It was the first congregation on European soil. This congregation was very dear to Paul's heart.

These notes assume the so-called first Roman imprisonment as the occasion for writing the Captivity Letters though that does not affect the exegesis of this text.

Our text divides itself into three parts:

  1. The greeting, verses 1-2;

  2. Paul's thanksgiving for the Philippian Christians, verses 3-8; and,

  3. Paul's prayer for these Christians, verses 9-11.

Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Paul mentions Timothy as a co-worker here, Colossians 1:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1. He mentions him as co-worker, not as co-author of the Epistle. We have no single word in English which corresponds to "slave."  It means "slave" in the sense that the person has no will of his own. Except for a reference in 4:21, the word "saints", when referring to Christians, is always found in the plural in the New Testament.  "In Christ Jesus" occurs 164 times in Paul's writings. It denotes the faith relationship. AAT , KJV, RSV, NIV translate the phrase literally. Phillips has "all true Christians."  TEV reads:  "who are in union, with Christ Jesus." Only in the address of this Epistle does Paul mention pastors and helpers (AAT) or overseers and deacons (NIV).

Philippians 1:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Grace and peace" are always mentioned in this order in the Scriptures. Does this verse denote a fact or a wish? This relationship pertains only because Jesus Christ is our Lord. The Father and the Son are one in essence but distinct in person.

Concerning verses 3-5:

  1. Luther and the NIC make verse 4 parenthetical. Thus verse 5 becomes the object or occasion of the thanks, verse 3.

  2. KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB read these verses as one sentence. KJV, RSV, and NASB make verse 5 dependent on 3. NEB makes verse 5 dependent on 4.

  3. AAT , LB and Phillips make verse 3 one sentence and 4-5 another, thus making 5 dependent on 4.

  4. Thus the real question is whether "because" , verse 5, means "for"  (going back to verse 3) or "because" (going back to verse 4 depending on "praying joyfully").

These notes suggest that AAT's version is preferable.

Philippians 1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you.

Note frequency of forms of "all": verse 3, thrice 4, twice 7, 8, 9 for a total of eight in verses 3-9.

Philippians 1:4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

"In" denotes both occasion and time.  "Prayer,"which occurs twice this verse, denotes a particular supplication, not a general prayer.  "Joy" is the first occurrence of a key word in this Epistle.

Philippians 1:5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

"Because" denotes cause depending on joyful prayer in verse 4.

Rienecker: The word 'partnership' signifies 'your cooperation toward, in aid of the gospel'. The word refers not only to financial contributions but also denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with the apostle whether in sympathy or in suffering or in active labor.

Others see it in a narrower sense as in Acts 2:42 which includes faith, confession, worship and Christian life.

In this verse and the next we note that the concurrence of the new man and the monergism of God are indeed a great mystery.

Philippians 1:6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

We stated above that we prefer the punctuation of AAT for the proper flow of ideas in the English. According to that preference we begin a new sentence in verse 6. On the punctuation of verses 6-8:

  1. AAT, LB and Phillips make verses 6, 7a, 7b and 8 individual sentences;

  2. Luther, RSV, NASB, and NEB make verses 6, 7, 8 individual sentences.

  3. KJV, NKJV, and NIV connect verse 6 to verse 5 and then make 7 and 8 individual sentences.

We give these statistics so that the pastor or student can decide for himself which version best serves the flow of thought into the English. One of the difficulties with translating the Pauline Epistles is the length of the sentences in Greek. English prefers shorter sentences.

The versions unanimously render "in" with "in." We mention this because some have suggested that this verse speaks of mission work because "in" means "among."  That doesn't make sense and, furthermore, robs the sentence of great comfort for the Christian.

The "first day,"  mentioned in verse 5 was a memorable day when they became Christians.  "The day of Christ Jesus" surely cannot mean anything else than judgment day.  "Beneficial work" includes every phrase of justification and sanctification. This is an absolute promise similar to 1 John 10:28, or Hebrews 12:5b. This verse clearly includes resurrection from the dead. Otherwise Paul would likely have said: "until you die." 

Philippians 1:7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me.

"For me to think this about all of you is right because etc."  NIV translates:  "It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart."  Without becoming needlessly emotional (as will be seen later in the Epistle) Paul shows great love for the Philippians.

And now Paul gives the circumstances under which this is true and also the reason for this very close relationship of the Philippians to Paul. "Whether I'm in chains in my cell."   "Whether I'm defending or affirming the Gospel."   "You partake with me of the grace of God, all of you."  Why are they so dear to Paul's heart? Because all of them partake of, believe in, the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Paul does not base his joy and fellowship on some vapid emotion.

Philippians 1:8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

An explanatory verse. The noun which has the article is the subject. NIV reads:  "God can testify."  The translations by and large do not translate of a Greek word with the meaning: " You see, God is witness in my behalf."  Note that it is for all of them, not just some of them. NIV reads:  "with the affection of Christ Jesus."  ICC says:  "Christ loves them in him." 

Bengel: In Paul it is not Paul who lives but Jesus Christ; wherefore Paul is not moved by the affection of Paul but by that of Jesus Christ.

Of course, the word "long for" is not to be understood physically but metaphorically. Note the remarkable union among Christ, Paul and the Philippians. Paul says that he yearns for all of them. Normally we yearn for some more than for others. Pastors are generally like everyone else on this score. But Paul says he yearns for them all, making no distinction.

Philippians 1:9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

The following translations make one sentence of verses 9-11: Luther, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NIV, NASB, AAT and LB. Here, for once, we have more unanimity among translators.

Here Paul is speaking about the "love" of sanctification.  "More and more" reminds us that there must be constant progress.  "Knowledge" is spiritual knowledge. This calls for constant use of the means of grace.

ICC: Love which, however ardent and sincere, shall not be a mere unregulated impulse.
Rienecker: The word was originally used of sense perception but is applicable to the inner world of sensibility and refers to moral and spiritual perception related to practical applications.

What is the intended sense of "depth of insight" here? Does it mean at all times? Or does it mean in all situations? AAT and NEB have "of every kind."  NIV reads:  "depth of insight."  The former speaks of variety, the latter of extent. There is always room for improvement in the use of our God-given knowledge and perception.

Philippians 1:10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

Robertson says that "so that" denotes purpose. Lenski prefers contemplated result.  "Discern" is the verb which was used of the testing of metals.  "What is best" literally means "the different things" but its intended sense is "the better things." 

Rienecker: Here it refers to what is worthwhile, excellent, vital.

"Blameless" causes a bit of difficulty. It means either "not causing others to stumble" or "not stumbling."  AAT reads:  "harming nobody."  NIV and RSV have  "blameless." 

For the second time Paul speaks of the last day. See verse 6.

Philippians 1:11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.

Perfect participles ordinarily denote a condition. KJV, NKJV, NIV and RSV simply take it as attendant circumstance "filled with etc."  AAT and NASB take it of something which began in the past and continues:  "as Jesus Christ has filled your life etc."  TEV makes it a promise:  "Your lives will be filled."  Perhaps it is best to say that Paul is assuring the Philippians of something which now pertains.

"Of righteousness" is likely attributive genitive telling us what kind of fruit God gives. The imputed righteousness of Christ renders a person fruitful in a spiritual sense.

Now follows "glory and praise" which modifies "fruit of righteousness" and gives us two specifics about this fruit. It is made possible only through the agency of Jesus Christ and its ultimate purpose is to glorify and praise God.

The final purpose of the Christian's righteousness of life is the glorification of God Who saved him. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  RSV, Matthew 5:16.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1984, pp. 69-71. Used with permission.

Return to top

Return to Buls' Notes Index